Written by Rich Forestano Wednesday, 16 October 2013 00:00
Mineola residents were out in full force on Wednesday, Oct. 9 to oppose a Bolla Market Inc. proposal to build a 24-hour Exxon gas station and convenience store at 449 Jericho Turnpike. The site directly abuts village residences.
More than 90 people attended the meeting, including Maria McCarey of White Road. She lives directly behind the property.
McCarey collected 124 signatures from surrounding neighbors, who oppose the gas station. She feels it will encourage loitering, create quality of life issues and increase traffic.
“It’s going to be a danger to our children in Mineola,” she said. “[Right now] I can look outside my bedroom window and I don’t have lights blaring inside when I’m ready to sleep.”
Bolla Market CEO Harry Singh wants to build a 2,250 square-foot station on the property, which he bought 18 months ago. The site would hold six, two-sided gas pumps and one store if approved.
The property is zoned for a gas station, which was built on the property in 1959, but suffered a fire and was torn down six years ago. The lot has been vacant since.
Bolla argued that the site needs a freestanding store because of New York gas taxes, which are among the highest in the country. The store would take up 11 percent of the lot if built.
“I have been very upfront with all the residents that have asked for multiple things,” Singh said. “The reason I did that is to show the local community that we want to be part of the community.”
Bolla Market appeared before the village’s board of zoning appeals on Oct. 25, 2012 and April 18. The company held informational meetings for residents after the meeting and according to Bolla reps, made “significant changes” after said meeting, which cost Singh roughly $250,000.
“When we appeared before the [board of zoning appeals] almost a year ago [with a full room], following that meeting, [Bolla Market] conducted a public informational meeting and notified each individual who was on the required notification list,” said Bolla Market legal counsel rep David Altman. “That meeting was held on Jan. 8. We only had six people show up.”
Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira drives by the property everyday. To him, with Bolla’s global recognition, he’s surprised the property has not been kept up since it was bought. According to Pereira, the village building department had to contact Singh several times to clean up the site.
Forty-two of Singh's 85 stations have a convenience store; a necessity which Pereira has questioned for Mineola. Singh said some of the stores are retailers, repair shops, etc.
“If the indication of how you treated that property since you owned it is any indication how you will treat it in the future, that is [an issue],” he said.
Civil engineer Chris Tartaglia of High Point Engineering said the 12 cars that could be at gas points at any time would not create traffic clutter. Furthermore, zoning board conditions state that physical medians will be placed on driveway curb-cuts so cars could not turn onto neighboring streets.
“It’s also noted that the property [behind] the site is not residential,” Tartaglia said. “Nobody’s home is adjacent to the site.”
Mayor Scott Strauss feels people will ignore the medians, with drivers aiming for the quickest exit possible.
“I don’t have the expertise that you gentleman do, but I do have practicality expertise. When you have your mountable curb cuts, in reality, people go right around it,” Strauss said. “It does, to your point, serve as a deterrent, but it’s not a deterrent.”
Trustee Paul Cusato challenged Tartaglia’s point, indicating that if another Hurricane Sandy hit the area, it would pose traffic issues. “Where would you put gas lines? On White? On Latham?”
Tartaglia thinks that is an “impossible scenario to plan for” and noted a site owned by Singh on Jericho Turnpike and Glen Cove Road was one of the few sites open in the area during the aftermath of Sandy. The proposed site would house a generator in case of power outages.
“Mr. Singh did a great job of staffing that facility, pulling every string he could to get fuel to that facility,” Tartaglia said. “He did raise his prices. He did not refuse anyone.”
Charles Olivo, of Stonefield Engineering, did traffic studies in the vicinity of the subject property. He concluded that during peak hours in 60 minute intervals, Jericho Turnpike carries 2,000 vehicles in commuter rushes. White and Latham roads carry less than 100.
“[We] want to [build] a driveway that aligns with Latham Road to create a four-leg intersection, meaning both of the approaches from the side street would align,” Olivo said. “This would require significant traffic signal modifications that the applicant is willing to bear the cost.”
Residents that frequent the turnpike feel otherwise.
“Why don’t we just name Jericho Turnpike, Kamikaze Turnpike,” said Ed Heyduk of Emory Road. “I live four houses away from Jericho Turnpike. I’ve been on the turnpike at six o’clock in the morning and it’s bumper to bumper.”
“The public are not traffic experts,” said Olivo. “They are community experts, but their knowledge, with regard to traffic, does not supercede any information that is provided in this study.”
Susan Chin said while the gas station would bring tax revenue to the village and have top notch landscaping, to her, people just don’t want a ”convenience store row” in Mineola.
“There’s one down the block and there’s another a couple blocks away,” said Chin. “This will bring more traffic and parking [on our streets] in the neighborhood.”
White Road resident Matilde Wojis thought Olivo’s study was not on par for what’s needed to properly survey the property. She wants an analysis as long as the gas station plans to be open if approved by Mineola.
“I want a 24-hour study,” Wojis said. “I’d like to know what the volume is of other [Bolla] gas stations.”
Since most of the residents had left before the public comment period began, Mayor Strauss ordered the hearing be adjourned and reopened on Wednesday, Nov. 13, to give Singh time to address resident concerns and give locals who left the meeting a chance to comment.